Local combat vets find help coping with PTSD
For American combat veterans, going to war is hard enough. They must deal with situations such as roadside bombs, losing fellow soldiers and trying to readjust back into society after completing their service. While soldiers deal with many different side effects from their time in the service, one stands out in particular: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
PTSD has affected the lives of thousands of veterans from many eras including World War II, Korean War and Vietnam to the current era with soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But for local combat veterans, help is available on a local basis.
The Vet Center program is available for veterans with meetings in many areas around the state including in Price. The Vet Center program was established by Congress out of the recognition that a significant number of Vietnam-era veterans were still experiencing readjustment problems. In response to the Persian Gulf War, Congress extended eligibility to veterans who served during other periods of armed hostilities after the Vietnam era, and also included WW II and Korea war veterans, according to a pamphlet from the Utah Vet Center.
The goal of the Vet Center program is to provide a broad range of counseling, outreach and referral services to eligible veterans in order to help them make a satisfying readjustment to civilian life, according to the group's pamphlet.
Brandon Gwilliam, a readjustment counselor with the Provo Vet Center, makes the weekly trip to the Price area every Tuesday to talk with veterans. Gwilliam said he comes to the area to meet with veterans and helps develop a treatment plan for them by providing options and most of all, just taking the time to listen to their thoughts and feelings.
Gwilliam works in Provo area three days a week. Every Tuesday he visits Price and on Thursdays he visits Manti. A co-worker of Gwilliam takes trips to other places such as Nephi and Richfield.
A group meeting with veterans suffering from PTSD is available on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at 1 p.m. at the Workforce Services building, 475 W. Price River Dr., in Price.
People who come to the group include veterans who have been in combat and people who have been diagnosed with PTSD. There is a benefit in having more than a few veterans show up at a meeting, Gwilliam said.
"They are trusting of each other," Gwilliam said. "It is very benefiting for many veterans because they are around others who have experienced similar events."
Getting veterans to come to group meetings can be a tough task. The meetings are a way to help veterans process trauma instead of having veterans bunker down in their house staying away from people and from help. Some issues that veterans deal with in addition to PTSD include difficult memories and marriage problems, Gwilliam said.
"Once we get in touch with them, then we can open up a new world for them, restoring their trust and giving them hope," Gwilliam said. "The meetings are designed to help them feel normalized and realize PTSD symptoms and how to manage them."
A group of veterans in Provo have been meeting together for 12 years. There are 30 veterans on the roster for the group and an average of eight to 12 veterans show up at the meeting. Some veterans who attend the meetings have talked about the importance they play in their lives, Gwilliam said.
"Regulars say it is that important to them to show up to the meetings," he said. "It's a good way to get them out of their houses and it's healthy to socialize and be accepted into something that helps them."
Gwilliam said there are four main criteria that veterans suffering from PTSD exhibit. They include exposure to trauma, response to trauma, re-experiencing symptoms and avoidance behavior or the physiological response. Things that trigger memories about that type of behavior which impacts a veteran's daily life, occupation and social life can be a result of PTSD.
Gwilliam, who served in the U.S. Army 101st Airborne, completed two tours of Iraq working as a mental health specialist. He and another specialist were responsible for serving 4,000 troops across three bases in Iraq. During his deployments, Gwilliam was a part of 14 critical incidents that involved the deaths of 20 American soldiers. Within 24 to 48 hours after an incident, the soldiers affected by it would be brought together for what is known as "stress debriefing." It was the type of meeting that you will always remember, Gwilliam said.
"The intensity and anger soldiers had in that room was intense and some powerful stuff came out from that debriefing," he said. "It was really intense and just being in there was intimidating."
One of the keys for veterans suffering from PTSD is to help them realize that they are a survivor and that they are strong. It's a difficult mental shift for people with PTSD but opening the door to an opportunity like a group meeting is a start, Gwilliam said.
"Lets focus on what makes you a hero and a survivor and not just take the entire time to complain," he said. "We can help them process trauma and information that is bothersome to them and see what it has given to them instead of what has been taken from them."
While there may be a lot of negativity from veterans at the meetings, just having one person in the meeting who has a positive outlook and hope can help create a large change in the group, Gwilliam said.
For the group in Price, which is known as PTSD and Resilience, Gwilliam is hoping to see it grow by spreading the word to veterans and getting more to show up regularly to the meetings held locally.
"The group takes time to develop and grow like in Provo and I'm trying to have that happen around here in the area," Gwilliam said. "Any veteran can come in to the Vet Center and talk with someone and they will help tell them what their options are.
"We'll always be here for them," he said.